So what to plant under power lines?

I’m going to add a bit more to Bert’s discussion.  Through the efforts of Dr. Eric Wiseman of Urban Forestry at Virginia Tech, we have a
Utility Line Arboretum (ULA).  Modeled after Dr. Bonnie Appleton’s original ULA for Virginia at the Hampton Roads research station, Eric’s includes many woody taxa suitable for planting in the vicinity of power lines (see a nice list of Bonnie’s favorite power-line-friendly taxa here).

Eric came to me with his plan in 2006 and we found some space in our Hahn Horticulture Garden to get it going. Funding came through from both the Virginia Department of Forestry and the USDA. He’s now up to 50+ specimens, including a “no-no” tree for a demonstration of relative size. The Urban Forestry Club students maintain the site and Eric uses the ULA for both education and outreach.  Our hort garden visitors are free to wander through the well-labeled display. Interesting story:  obviously, this would be more effective with a faux power line for scale, like Bonnie has at Hampton Roads. Our campus architect said “heck no.” Apparently Virginia Tech has gone to great lengths and expense to get all power lines/utilities below ground.  And the ULA is adjacent to the much-visited baseball field.

That’s Eric on the right, demonstrating proper planting techniques.

Our Horticulture department has a great relationship with Forestry; especially the Urban Forestry section. Their students take our Landscape Establishment and Urban Horticulture courses and we encourage our landscape contracting students to take Arboriculture. Several are minoring in Urban Forestry (or vice-versa). Just thought I’d share a nice success story – one that should make Bert’s maligned arborists happy!

7 thoughts on “So what to plant under power lines?”

  1. In most cases I would prefer to see a tree removed rather than horribly disfigured by pruning. If the tree is in the right of way, this is legal although contentious. From the savings realized from eliminating repeated pruning the utility could offer the homeowner an appropriate replacement tree.

  2. Some of my favorites for utility line clearance: serviceberry, crabapples, Japanese tree lilac, ironwood…anybody have other good trees for these sites? I don’t like pear for a variety of reasons so I don’t plant more than a couple a year for the municipality I work for.

  3. One thing to keep in mind is that a tree that stays small enough to fit under power lines in New England will grown to a much, much larger size in The South. I’ve found quite a few lists of trees suitable for under power lines that are just laughable. Florida Dogwood? Seriously? Serviceberry? Not the ones I’ve seen!

  4. I feel VG’s pain and, in general, agree with the comment about replacement. The only other point I would offer is that a directionally-pruned large tree may offer values other than aesthetics – shading to reduce cooling needs, for example – that a replacement tree may not.

  5. To clarify, it’s a Utility Line arboretum for Virginia (see link to Bonnie’s extension pub). Of course growth rates and habit vary by climate, that’s why it’s state/regional in nature.

  6. How about shrubs as an option? Some of them can attain large enough heights to function as a nice alternative to a tree but still be small enough to fit under power lines. Those is the viburnum family come to mind as options as do many of the sumacs and some of the fancier elderberries.

Leave a Reply